Meningitis vaccine guidance ‘could cost lives’

Picture: PA
Picture: PA
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The decision not to recommend a new vaccine to protect children against a deadly form of meningitis has been branded a “severe blow” by campaigners,

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – the independent panel which advises UK governments on which vaccines should be offered – released a draft statement saying the meningitis B vaccine should not be rolled out. Meningitis charities expressed concern at the decision, saying that the vaccine could protect against 73 per cent of cases of meningitis B strains in the UK.

Estimates suggest that around 1,870 cases of meningitis B are diagnosed each year, with one in ten proving fatal and one in three sufferers left with debilitating after-effects such as loss of limbs or brain damage.

The Bexsero vaccine was licensed by the European Medicines Agency at the start of the year. The UK government then asked the JCVI to assess evidence and advise on whether the vaccine should be introduced in the UK. But in its draft statement, the JCVI said that there is “insufficient” evidence available to support the introduction of the immunisation. They added that the efficacy of Bexsero “has not been established” and it is “highly unlikely” to be cost-effective.

But manufacturer Novartis said that it was not asked for pricing information as part of the JCVI deliberation.

Sue Davie, chief executive of the Meningitis Trust and Meningitis UK, said: “We understand the committee’s concerns about impact and cost, but we believe this vaccine is safe and we know it will save lives.”

Chris Head, from the Meningitis Research Foundation, added: “This news is a severe blow for everyone campaigning against this dreadful disease. We know every delay costs lives.”

Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the Department of Health in London, said: “This is a very difficult situation where we have a new vaccine against meningitis B but we lack important evidence.

“We need to know how well it will protect, how long it will protect and if it will stop the bacteria from spreading from person to person. We need to work with the scientific community and the manufacturer to resolve these uncertainties.”

Health Secretary Alex Neil said: “It is important we fully understand how effective any vaccine will be before we consider introducing it in Scotland. We await the final recommendation of JCVI following the proposed consultation period and will consider carefully advice given.”

Research quantifies cancer risk among families

A family history of cancer increases the risk of other relatives developing not only the same cancer but also other forms of the disease, according to a study of 23,000 patients.

The research, published in the journal Annals of Oncology, looked at the risk of developing various different types of cancer in families where there was a history of the disease.

The results confirmed known links, including an increased risk of developing the same cancer as a close relative and the 1.5-fold increased risk of breast cancer in women with a family history of colorectal cancer.

But the study also found a 3.3-fold increased risk of developing oral and pharyngeal cancer among people who had a close relative with cancer of the larynx.

And the researchers, from Italy, Switzerland and France also found a four-fold increased risk of throat cancer where a relative had oral or pharyngeal cancer.

If a close relative had breast cancer, female family members had a 2.3-fold increased risk of ovarian cancer. Family members had a 3.4-fold increased risk of prostate cancer if a close relative had bladder cancer.

Dr Eva Negri, of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan, said: “Besides confirming and quantifying the well-known excess risks of people developing the same cancer as their first-degree relative, we have identified increased risks for developing a number of different cancers.”